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Difficult for public to find time for the public's business

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Column by Ben Sheroan, editor

By Ben Sheroan

Public meetings always  are more interesting when the public participates. Unfortunately, that typically only occurs when something objectionable or controversial took place at a previous meeting.

Most government meetings conducting the people’s business attract few spectators. Of course, that’s why we elect others to make decisions on our behalf.

Too few folks take part. I get to attend as part of my job. That’s understandable. We’re all busy. Lots of things crowd our schedule: Working for a living, raising kids, cooking dinner, eating dinner, playing cornhole and, of course, reading the newspaper.

It was nice to see a crowd last week at Hardin Fiscal Court’s meeting. The third-floor chambers in the courthouse downtown still had empty seats in the gallery but the audience was more significant and more interested than usual in participating.

Several took advantage of the public participation time to address magistrates about a recent decision to invest $12 million in a new county government building.

Discussing a new office complex first came up several years ago and included consideration of leaving the Public Square. The idea of a new building has been discussed actively for months. Approved last summer, Fiscal Court’s current budget includes plans to spend $500,000 on planning and developing a new government complex.

Because discussions included the possibility of a construction site near Ring Road and away from the traditional downtown, the idea attracted enough concern that Elizabethtown city government offered to get involved with alternatives last May. That story dominated our front page and was one of dozens of news articles plus a few editorials that mentioned a potential move.

The process moved forward late last year when Fiscal Court paid to conduct a formal assessment of space needs. It seemed quite inevitable a decision was pending.

Yet folks speaking at Fiscal Court’s meeting Tuesday described their surprise at Fiscal Court’s decision to hire an engineering firm and ask it to design a building alongside the Emergency Management office near the intersection of Rineyville and Ring roads.

To some degree, I can understand their surprise. Seeing the selection of an engineer on the previous agenda did not alert the newspaper site selection was about to be settled, too. But the topic of a new building was openly discussed on repeated occasions.

Many who stepped forward to object and ask Fiscal Court to reconsider the previous week’s 8-1 decision described a concern for downtown and community traditions. Other comments centered on details regarding funding or challenging the necessity of the expenditure.

Most admitted perhaps the community in general or they in particular should pay more attention to the actions of local government.

And immediately after the public comment period closed and Fiscal Court moved ahead with other matters on its agenda, most of those same people got up and left.

Fiscal Court’s meeting had not ended. For those already expressing disappointment in the judgment of their duly elected officials, it seemed ironic they so readily would entrust magistrates again.

Lives are busy. They had places to go and things to do. That’s understandable.

But consider this: The meeting continued another 30 minutes or so. Admittedly, the action taken was routine and not very compelling. It could have been dramatic. Virtually any topic can come up during a regularly scheduled voting meeting.

And the new collection of watchdogs had returned to other considerations.

Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.